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So, I've been wandering from No Competition a wee bit. (*cough*) On a recent vacation I watched Teen Wolf, and old NCIS episodes. And thus, while not a Teen Wolf fic, I do offer up a NCIS one.

Hormones and vacations are terrible and possibly tragic mixtures.

Synopsis: At a time when his life was falling apart around him, something big came into Tony DiNozzo's life and helped him refocus his personal life, his career, and his future. The trick was, how not to lose this too.

Lost & Found - Chapter One : The Foundling

Wednesday Nov 26, 2008

Tony DiNozzo gave a wild happy grin, darting between the players, and snagging the ball out of mid-air, successfully blocking the near score. With a smooth twist and lift, he tossed it up, and it fell easily into the basket at the far other end of the court. “Game over, guys!” He called out, laughing lightly at the sudden moaning and groaning around him.

Hands on hips, he surveyed the gym around him, and the lanky pre-teen bodies that were milling around. “Seriously,” He said, as they pestered at him for just one more play, “It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow, you little turkeys… some of you guys have travelling to do tonight and tomorrow, and I’m sure your parents don’t want tired cranky kids in the car to deal with. So, scoot! Scram! I’ll see you next week at practice.”

Groans turned into laughter, and with many a cheery wave, and many shout outs of “Happy Thanksgivings, Coach Tony!” the kids scattered to the wind, leaving him alone in the YMCA gym to clean up. Tony shook his head with a laugh, and smiled. Who would have thunk that coming to the Y, and working with thirty snot-nosed pre-teens on the verge of hormonal bursts would be the highlight of his week? If someone had told him he’d be doing this ten years ago, he’d have set them up for a psychiatric review.

What was even weirder than spending time with the kids, was that he’d so very enjoy this time, barking like some insane DI at those same kids, and that he was grateful for the time he spent coaching each week. It was his stress outlet, it wiped the slate and eased the strain he worked under day in and day out. Even after a brutal day at work, dealing with an incredibly irritable boss, a Mossad officer with a grudge, and a Junior Agent with an ego-trip gone wild, these few hours each week with these kids at the Y really invigorated him and gave him the strength to carry on.

It wasn’t that he hated his job at NCIS. He didn’t. He was a cop to the core of his soul, and investigating crimes so that justice could be served was what he did. But, the team he had worked with at NCIS five years ago was truly dead. After Gibbs lost his memories, something had died in the team. Sure, the Boss said he had them back, but Tony knew in his gut, that wasn’t true. Too much of the man he had been, the camaraderie they had enjoyed, the sense of partnership had been utterly wiped out.

But this… coaching… had been a lifeline at a time in his life when he hadn’t realized he needed one. Just a few years ago, just before Ari Haswari had come into their lives and wrecked hell, his frat brother Marcus Pask founded a nationwide program named SCULPT (Sports Culture Understanding Laughter Play Teamwork) that brought underprivileged children together in community centres like the Y for sponsored activities like basketball, or music lessons, art lessons… anything that got them off computers, off the streets, and into safe environments where they could learn team-work, camaraderie and have fun working off the surplus of energy that kids always had. It was brilliant, and the entire frat alumni had been really supportive of the project -- but Mark had wanted more from Tony, and had used every tool in his frat-brotherhood repertoire to beg, bribe, blackmail Tony into coaching for a few weeks, until they found someone who could do it regularly.

Four years later, excluding his six months as Agent Afloat, acting as coach to the Basketball program of SCULPT became a weekly regular gig. “Too bad it’s only once a week, DiNozzo.” He muttered to himself, walking around the room to gather three of the balls that had been used in today’s session, and lining up to neatly toss them some fifteen feet into the large bin across the court where the balls were stored. “Don’t be a whiny little bitch about it. It’s not like you have spare time for more that wouldn’t impact the job. Daniels has the Tuesday class. Marnie takes the weekend session. You do the Wednesday. That’s it.”

Gibbs would have flipped out if he knew what Tony was doing with his free time. As a result, no one at NCIS knew. And no one was going to know if Tony had his way. ‘Honestly, so what if it was a school-night?” Tony grumbled. “It’s not like I’m staying up until midnight. We’re done before nine at night every time,” Besides, coach these kids was rewarding on so many levels. They had fun, he had fun; they learned a game he loved, he got to play a game he loved; they learned to stand against bullying, to share in the sense of accomplishment, to make a difference to each other and themselves in little ways, and they made a huge difference to Tony’s sense of self and self-worth, when others in his day to day life were trying so hard to tear those qualities down.

Tony heaved a sigh, annoyed with his maudlin thoughts that crept in almost immediately after the kids left; it’d been another bad day with his team, another epic go around with Ziva’s bitterness, McGee’s ego, and Gibb’s indifference. This had to end. It wasn’t mentally healthy, and the distraction, if it should happen in the field, could get him or a teammate killed. “But how do I make it stop?”

Point was, the insubordination of Ziva and McGee, sometimes concurrent, sometimes at differing times, began during Gibbs little Mexican hiatus. It had escalated when Gibbs had returned, mostly because Ziva had seen Tony’s demotion as proof she was right about his unworthiness to the position, and McGee because he was bitter about no longer being SFA with a probie of his own.

“I should have dealt with it then.” he thought glumly, wandering over to the boys locker rooms to do a walk through for any straggling kid. “In between jumping to Gibbs tune, running an undercover op, and working twenty-four seven, yeah… sometime then.”

Realistically, Gibbs hadn’t had his back then. He was too busy proving he was the alpha wolf amongst the pack. The displays of temper, the barking, the ridiculous undercutting of his authority over the junior members. It had gone on for months, and would have continued if Jenny hadn’t decided on suicide by proxy.

Sometimes, though, he wondered if Gibbs had his back now. God only knew what Gibbs thought of him, it seemed he never gave enough or worked hard enough to make the Senior Agent happy, anymore.

Wandering up and down the rows of lockers, he shut a few doors, and checked that the showers were properly turned off. The arrangement the city had set up with the YMCA allowed the kids to use the facilities at no charge. He’d be damned if he allowed that kindness to be abused. And so, he made sure that there was no damage, that the kids treated the property with the respect it deserved. They had learned, from the outset, that he’d not tolerate mock or real fighting.

Really, the kids only used the lockers and the benches. They had to bring indoor running shoes to play on the court, and shoved their coats and backpacks (if they had them) in the lockers while they were playing.

The showers were never used. But, Tony didn’t for a moment thing the kids wouldn’t go in there if they had a prank they wanted to pull. It was the kind of shit he would have done as a kid, after all.

Having cleared the boys lockers, Tony flicked the lights to the locker rooms out, and made his way over the girls. The team was co-ed, but they had very few girls actually show up for basketball practice. They tended to gravitate towards other activities. Usually, only Teresa Miller, and Bethany Roddy came to the practices. Bethany, Tony felt, would make a great player at College level in her future. She had some wicked instincts on the court.

Tapping three times on the door, and then twice more after a pause, he entered the rooms and went walk-about. They were empty, neat and tidy. Tony returned to the gym, and went to the small office at the end of the court. Here they had a desk, a white-board for diagrams, and a small locked cabinet for emergency medical supplies. Grabbing his leather jacket and trusty backpack, he turned off these lights and made for the exit.

His hand was on the primary lights to the gym, when Tyler Johnston and David Sydney came running full pelt towards him from the foyer. “Coach, Coach!” Tyler was shouting, while David was waiving his arms as if Tony would miss seeing them. “You gotta come… there’s a baby been abandoned out front of the gym!”

Tony blinked, hit the lights, and moved towards the boys. “A baby?” He asked calmly. “Are you sure?”

“He’s hurt -- yeah…and real little. Teresa and Kevin are with him. He’s tucked into a corner, behind the garbage cans -- we only spotted him because we was waiting, and heard him crying.

The boys were jogging on their shorter legs to keep up Tony’s longer strides. Bart, the security guard, was obviously on his security walkabout, as the desk was unmanned. That wasn’t an issue, normally, given that the YMCA doors were closed to the public. Though, ironic, how it seemed that security was never there when you needed it. ‘Story of my life.’ Tony thought sourly.

Tony absently patted down his pocket, feeling the jingle of keys, before pushing the main doors open,

“Coach Tony! Coach Tony! Over here!” Tony’s gaze swept to the far east wall, where the wall jutted out to form the shadow of the actual gym. Tony pulled out his cellphone, and triggered the flashlight app. It wasn't late, but in November, night fell early now, and this particular spot behind the garbage bin was particularly dark. The two girls were on their knees on the ground, twisting away from whatever they were protecting to wave their arms at him.

Drawing closer, Tony’s lips pressed into a thin line as he spotted the child they were hovering over; he wasn’t quite the infant that the boys had claimed, but he was definitely too young to be out anywhere on his own. Teresa, a good team player that she was, crouched closer to the child and titled her water bottle up to the child’s mouth, giving the the small boy a drink. When the bottle came down, and Teresa leaned back on her heels, her blue eyes looked up for instructions or cues from her Coach. Tony jerked his head to the side, as if to say, step back, and the kid complied.

Finally, Tony got a good look at the child. What he saw, however, wasn’t making the investigator in him the least bit happy. A small overly thin face had a few light bruises around the right temple, and some dried, and some damp tears tracked through the dirt on his face. But what triggered Tony’s anger the most, was the pain marked around tired eyes and a pale mouth. His internal investigator canvassed the rest of the scene in a solid long sweeping glance, taking in the overall size of the child and mentally deciding the child was about three or four years of age. The boy’s right arm was broken, the angle of the arm to the body all wrong, and there was distinctive bruising on the child’s neck, consistent with choking. This kid had been seriously abused.

‘Someone,’ he thought grimly but kept it silent for sake of minor children gadding about, “Really needs to die.”

Tony immediately began shrugging off his leather jacket, dropping into a crouch in front of the child, aware of Bethany and Teresa scooted further away, coming to stand up and join the boys.

“Hey there,” Tony said calmly, letting his broad back serve as a windbreak for the boy. He was dressed too simply for this cold weather, clad in threadbare pjs. His hands and feet, both dirty, were exposed to the November night air. “My name is Tony DiNozzo, I’m the basketball coach for this group of kids.” He reached out with one hand, to touch the boy’s leg. The child flinched away.

“Listen, I’m not going to hurt you. I promise. But, you look really cold there. Can I put my jacket around you? It’s very nice and warm.” Hazel eyes held a green gaze steadily, offering assurance through force of will that Tony wouldn’t hurt him. The bruise on his temple, and the pinched look on the kid’s face painted an awful picture, and Tony’s gut clenched. Oh, oh, somebody so very desperately needed to die in a spectacularly slow and painful way.

For a moment, Tony honestly thought the kid was going to refuse any help, but suddenly, miraculously, the child nodded with the tiniest jerk of chin.

“I know your arm really hurts.” Tony said gently, reaching out again, this time to cup a cheek, gently stroking soft cold skin with his thumb. The kid shuddered, but after a simple moment, leaned into the warmth of Tony's hand. ”Can you lean forward?”

A soft whimper, but compliance was automatic. The kid had been abused, definitely, but he wasn’t at the point of fighting against his abuser, yet. The fact he obeyed immediately told Tony that the child was used to doing what was instructed. He held his hurt arm close to his chest, though the pain of doing so brought fresh tears, and leaned forward, away from the wall, from the waist.

Tony rose up from his crouch, wasting no time to swoop leather jacket down and around the tiny shoulders. Given how large it was compared to how small the child was, it nearly encapsulated the kid completely. Only the tiny head appeared above the collar of the jacket. “Good work, buddy!” Tony praised, gently running a hand over the mop of filthy dark hair. The kid hadn't seen clean water and soap in some time, Tony noted grimly, but he didn’t feel any contusions on the kid's head.

Rocking back on his heels, Tony surveyed the waif’s response to his praise, and the reaction to warmth from his jacket. The November air having taken on a bit of a wintery chill, it was too cold, even with the jacket, to let the boy stay outside long. For him, an adult, his tolerance to cold was higher but even he knew that five or ten minutes was his max, more than that and he risked a cold or chest infection.

It beggared a few concerning questions. ‘How long was he out here?’ Tony wondered, looking up and around for the surveillance cameras that he was certain were in the area, and returned to the kid. 'His feet are ice white. But, no signs of frostbite yet.' Realistically, the corner they were in provided a lot of shelter, but it wasn't perfect by far.

Sharp green eyes, well experienced in looking for evidence, tracked the cameras, their position relative to those camera’s range, and then the streets around the YMCA. If the kid was dumped, they had used the abutting street to the complex, and sent the kid up over the gardens. Or the kid had climbed that way, hugging the wall to escape the wind.

Yeah, somebody really, REALLY, needed to die. Maybe two or three times, using medieval torture methods like… honey and ants or chinese water torture.

‘Those cameras will show nothing,’ Tony gave those stupid cameras a withering glare for their incompetence. ‘Honestly… why just the front doors of the gym, the cheap administrative bastards?’ About all he could expect to see, from that footage, was possibly the child as he scuttled up along the wall of the gymnasium to this sheltered point. There would be no footage showing who dropped him off, who abandoned him… Dammit. Tony killed the flashlight app, and hit the eighth speed-dial on his phone. It went to voicemail, and he cursed silently to himself. ‘It’s Thanksgiving, DiNozzo. It’s eight-thirty at night… what did you expect?’ Frowning, he scrolled through his address book and found the alternate number he needed.

“Children’s Aid, how may I direct your call?” The perky voice on the end probably came partnered with bubble-gum and overly teased hair.

“Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS. I’m trying to reach Caseworker Patty Smythe. I understand her office hours are over, but I’m wondering if you could contact her? I’m at the YMCA 1325 W St NW, and I’ve found an abused and injured small child. No guardian around. In need of medical attention. I think he’s been abandoned. I’d like Patty’s recommendation on a contact at CAS before I call 911.”

There was silence. The sound of a scratching pen. And, and a murmured, “One moment please.”

The muzak was annoying kiddie pop, and it made Tony’s lip curl. Ugh. What was wrong with classical music? A small sound behind him caused Tony to look down and around at the kids surrounding him and the toddler on the ground. Tony frowned, tucking the phone against his shoulder, and made an executive decision. They couldn't stay out in this wind.

“Kids,” He said to the quartet still hovering, “Head home. Your parents have to be getting worried. I’ve got this. If I have any questions, I’ll call your parents, okay?”

There was hesitation, and their open caring concern for the little boy made Tony proud of each child in this group. “It’s fine, me and my l’il buddy here will be okay. I’m going to get him inside the Y where it’s warm, call for an ambulance, and I’ll go with him. Okay?”

They fussed, and Tony let them. He turned to the child. “Hey buddy, can you get up? Let’s go inside where it’s warm, and I’ll get you something warm to drink.” Those sad, tired eyes met his, and the defeat in the weary face broke his heart. “Okay, Plan B.” Tony said gently, “I’m going to be very, very careful, but I’m going to pick you up, and take you inside, okay? I’m sorry if this hurts at all.”

Killing the call on his cellphone, he dropped the unit into his track-pants pocket before bending down and carefully, as if picking up a wounded dog, scooped the child up, cradling him like a baby to his chest, and being very careful not to jostle the shoulder attached to the broken arm. There were still faint whimpers, but the kid’s white face turned into his chest, and burrowed for warmth.

Reaching for his right pocket, Tony found his keys, and loosely held them in the arm supporting the kids legs, then rose to his feet.

“I’ll get the door,” Tyler, still straggling, declared, pulling the keys from Tony’s hand. He and David made a race of it. By the time Tony made the half dozen steps to the door, it was being held wide open by Tyler and David.

The bigger kids waited until Tony and the little boy were securely inside, and then, wishing their Coach much luck, scooted, aware that their parents would be getting antsy by their delay. Tony made mental note to call each household in the morning, and give praise where praise was justifiably due.

The slight weight carried his arms was crying softly, the gentle movement of Tony’s gait jarring the kid’s arm, causing pain. Oh, where was the Autopsy Gremlin when you needed him?

Tony headed towards one of the long leather sofas in the reception, and sat down, with the kid in his lap. He had two reasons for holding the kid, one, his body tended to run hot, and he could help warm the child up, and two, to make it easier to pick him up again if the need warranted such action. “Sssh.” He hushed the soft cries, stroking the child's head gently, soothingly. “You’re okay. You’ll be okay. Sssh.”

His phone vibrated in his pocket, and with a little juggling, he managed to get it out. “DiNozzo.” He answered briskly.

“I’m en route to you, how badly hurt?” Patty’s rough voice echoed on the cellphone, she was obviously using speakerphone.

“Aww, hell…” Tony sighed. “I didn’t mean for you to come, Pats… I would have been happy with anyone you vouched for.”

She snorted. “No one else would willingly deal with your crew, DiNozzo. Focus… how bad?”

“Broken arm, bruises, signs of strangulation, I suspect malnourished, and from the sounds of his breathing, fractured ribs. Someone tried to kill him, Pats. No shoes, no coat, and threadbare pjs. Seriously, Patty, I’d like to track down who was looking after this little guy and beat some common sense into them.”

“I’ll call 911. I’ll be there before them, but let's get this kid some help” She decided. “Where are you now?”

“Inside the club at reception. I brought him inside, he’s on my lap, wrapped up in my coat.” Tony said. “I’d like to get him a warm drink…”

“Don’t. Wait until he’s been assessed.” She advised, apology in her tone. “I’ll call now. Keep him warm and awake, if you can.”

Tony sighed, and pocketed the phone. “Some Thanksgiving, huh?” He said softly, still stroking a dark head. The breathing had eased, the cries had stopped, and the boy seemed to be leaching the warmth from his body. Drowsy eyes blinked at him as he looked down. “So the lady I was talking to is a very good friend of mine. She works for Children’s Aid Services -- those are people whose job is to make sure kids are safe and not being hurt by anyone. My friend’s name is Patty Smythe. She's very nice.” The tired hazel eyes seemed to stare into his unflinchingly. “Patty is going to help you see a doctor. And after they fix your arm, we’ll see about some food, warm clothes, and a nice warm bed… I bet you’re real tired, aren’t you?”

The soft sigh and nod at least gave Tony assurance the kid understood him.

“Things will be better, soon.” Tony promised. “Now, before we got too far, and Patty gets here -- can you tell me your name?”

The kid tensed, and seemed to curl up into a tighter ball.

“Hey… relax.” Tony gently ran his hand up and down the painfully rigid back. “You’re okay. You’re not going back to where you came from, I promise you. Please tell me your name?”

Tears filled the eyes, and the lips trembled. “Boy.” He said with such a soft almost silent voice. “Her call me Boy.”

Tony blinked. ‘Oh, dear sweet God and Angels on High,’ he thought. ‘I’m going to need Gibbs best rifle as soon as I find this ‘her’.’ There was no way around it. Someone REALLY, REALLY, utterly needed to die with extreme prejudice. Preferably with his hand around their throat. One did not call a child ‘Boy’.

“Well,” He drawled slowly, mind racing to figure a way to have this conversation. “Yes… you are a boy, so am I. So were two of the kids that came to find me. The other two were girls, they were sitting with you.” Deliberately acting as if he hadn't understood what the munchkin was telling him. “But, do you know your name?”

The head shook a little, “No. Her call me Boy. An’ Memaw calls me Boy an You.” He said in that soft near whisper.

Tony frowned, but made the expression look silly. “Well, that won’t work. I’m a “You” too, and a “Boy” too. So are the two boys who came to help you. They’re yous too! Nope, I guess that means you need a real name… something distinctive, something unique for a boy like you… I know… how about… Brutus?”

The kid’s eyes went wide. Clearly he believed this stranger holding him in his nice warm jacket was completely nuts.

“No?” Tony made a scrunched up silly face. “Didn’t like it? Okay. Hmmm… how about Albert? Or Allan? Orrrrr…. Andrew? Apophis? Ajax? Beutel? Bradley? Brian? Billy? Boxton? Berny? Bartholomew? Bart? Carlson? Cameron? Charlie? Christopher…” There was a start and a smile. “Oh ho!” Tony chortled. “So… Christopher. There are some really famous Christopher’s out there, you know. Like… Christopher Robin!”

“Pooh!”

“That’s right! Winnie the Pooh!” Tony smiled. “Now, how about we call you Christopher, and you can be named after Christopher Robin, then? I’ll call you Chris for short.”

“Boy don’t got a Pooh.” The kid told him sadly. "Boy don't got nobody."

Tony risked a soft kiss to a brow. “Ah, Chris, trust me you will.” He promised. "And, you do."

---

They had been chased out of the exam room and into the hall by the nurses, initially, but little Christopher-but-not-Christopher-Robin made such a wailing racket, that the decision was overturned. Oddly, the tiny boy hadn’t warmed up to Patty, who usually had kids eating out of the palm of her hand within minutes of meeting. Christopher had remained tense, unbearably so with just the CAS agent in the room, and so Patty, more worried for the child than upset by his lack of trust, had sent Tony in to stay with the child while the doctors examined him.

“X-rays are easy!” Tony was enthusiastically telling Chris, while a nurse helped him clean up via a sponge bath. The room they were using, was above normal in temperature, for the purpose of keeping the kid warm, despite the impromptu bath. “They slide you under this nifty machine, and position the machine arm just so... and poof.. take a picture of your bones.”

“Poof?” The kid repeated the word hesitantly.

Tony grinned. “You’ll see. It’s something that happens really, really fast. After that, the doctor will probably give you a special needle, that makes you feel awfully good… and he’ll set your arm, and then put a cast on it. You need to pick a color, now, though.” Tony said thoughtfully. “When I last had a broken bone, I wasn’t paying enough attention until after the shot -- and I picked a bad color.”

“Pink?” The nurse guessed, her smile teasing as she lifted up a color sample. Christopher’s eyes swung to her and went huge..

“Lilac purple.” He answered, and the nurse flipped that color up to Christopher’s delight.. “Pink was okay -- see how bright it is? It says, “look at me!, I got hurt -- be nice to me!” y’know, and then the pretty girls offer sympathy. But, the lilac? Gives the entirely wrong message.” He heaved a tragic sigh. “There I was, wounded in the line of my duty, and received mocking, not sympathy for my tragic circumstances. The pink, they would have known I was mocking my wound, myself. The lilac? Nope. No go.” He gave Christopher a grin. “You should go with the blue. It’s nice. Or yellow. We can draw pictures on that.”

Little hazel eyes seemed to consider that, and the pursed lips suggested proof was needed.

“Well now.” The door open, and a merry faced balding doctor found his way in, “I’m Dr, Janga, and I'm here to see... Christopher.” Chart in hand, he seemed to be speed reading everything. “And it looks like we need an x-ray or two.”

Tony kept quiet, though it was a battle. The fact was, now that the bath was over, and the child was warmly wrapped up in a blanket, the sheer degree of negligence and abuse the little boy had already endured was somewhat masked. He was absolutely plastered in bruises from head to toe, and Tony, with years of experience in law enforcement knew these were marks from being punched and kicked. It pissed him off. There was no excuse on this godforsaken planet for any child to ever be treated like a goddamn punching bag.

“Well, then, Mr. Christopher,” said the doctor, “We shall be off to get that x-ray. If your friend, Agent DiNozzo, wants to come along, that’s okay with me.”

It wasn’t how he planned to spend his night, truthfully, but it was a better use of his time than drinking himself unconscious. Tony followed along, playfully teaching Chris how to play the traveling game of eye-spy. The moving bed, and limited life experience made it hard for Chris to play along, but he gamely tried.

An hour later, they were back in the examination room, and Christopher had chosen the yellow cast. “Good choice.” Tony praised. “Subtle, cheery….it's a canvas waiting to be drawn on.” He tapped his chin, making a thinking pose. “We’ll need crayons. And markers.”

In short order, and with just a few tears, the bone was set, the cast was placed, and Christopher was slowly falling asleep, the warmth of the hospital bed, the lack of pain courtesy of a shot, and his arm being tended taking what little fight to stay awake out of him.

The nurse tucked the blanket tighter around the little boy as his breathing evened out into sleep, a soft sympathetic smile on her lips. She left with the remains from the casting plaster, passing Patty as the door opened.

The CAS representative was a well-known associate to the MCRT, having helped on a number of cases where minor children were involved. She knew their team well, and the team also learned well of her personality. She put the children first, and was willing to go toe to toe with Gibbs for that reason. It wasn’t a one-upmanship, it was always about the kids and what was best for them.

Gibbs hadn’t liked losing to Patty, but he respected her for her stance all the same. Truthfully, so did Tony -- because standing up against Gibbs took balls of steel. Big balls of steel.

Briskly, she made her way across the room to inspect the new cast. “Very nice.” She commented. “I see you’ve already autographed it Special Agent DiNozzo?” Her smile was cheeky. She tossed a gray bag filled with clothes for Christopher onto a nearby chair.

The nurse returned, and between her and Patty’s gentle efforts they dressed the soundly sleeping child in clean warm clothing. Afterwards, Patty pulled Tony aside, “I don’t know what to do.” She confessed quietly to the NCIS Agent. “The hospital won’t keep him overnight, I don’t have a foster parent I can line up quickly enough -- my two emergency fosterers have some critical cases already -- I’m flying out early in the morning for the weekend, or I would take him with me…I should cancel my flight, and it’s horribly selfish, but I’d rather not.” Patty bit her lip. “I may have to transfer him to another hospital and see if can get him in as a patient until after the holiday. He’s not going to enjoy that.”

Logically, Tony knew a trap when he saw one. And this, while not Patty’s intention, seemed like a karmic trap of epic proportions. Of all the YMCA’s that a child could be abandoned at, the powers that be selected the one he was at.

“He can stay with me for the weekend.” The words were no sooner out of his mouth, than Tony wanted to request video proof he had said them. What was WRONG with him? Kids and him were oil and water. Okay, the team aside, most small kids and him were oil and water.

“Oh, I didn’t mean…”

Tony shrugged, in for a penny as it was. Besides, other than dinner at Steve’s on Thanksgiving, and a few hours in the office working on cold-cases, he had no other plans for the holiday weekend. “I’ve got the days off, Patty, so it’s fine. And, I know you weren’t asking it of me. I’m offering. I’ve got the most of the training a foster parent does, plus I’m three months from finishing my Masters in Psychology. I get my certification with the Red Cross every year. As a cop, I sat in on the pre-training for foster care -- well, actually I sat in that because I was undercover at the time and that was part of the assignment. I could take him. I’ve a nice apartment, a bed he can sleep in, plenty of good healthy food -- I have a BA in Physical Education and that includes nutrition.... besides,I’ve no commitments on my time this weekend.” The football game he could watch at home just as easily as at Steve's.

For just a moment, something sad wavered in Patty’s eyes, and then it vanished. Tony was glad, he hated pity with a passion. “You’re sure?” She asked.

“Sure.” He waved it off. “It’s just three days, Patty. Easy peasy.”

“He’ll need a toddler bed, or rails, you know. And, based on the rashes, he may not be past wetting a bed. He appears to be toilet trained, but I don’t know how far his comfort levels are.” She sighed. “He needs a lot more clothes than I provided, and shoes.”

Tony looked at his watch, and winced. It was getting late… nearly eleven already. Nearly all retailers would be closed tomorrow, and the only one he could think of that might have what he needed and was still open now, would be closing very soon.

“Walmart.” Patty murmured. "It closes in a few minutes, though."

“Yeah.” Tony found his backpack, and pulled out his sketch pad, and a pencil. Faster than spit, he began listing shit he felt Christopher needed:

Winter coat
Snow pants
Winter boots
Running Shoes (2 pair, indoor and out)
PJs (3 sets)
Jeans (5 sets)
T-shirts (5 sets)
Sweaters (3 sets)
Cardian (2 sets)
Underwear / diapers?
Winnie the Pooh bear
Winnie the Pooh towel
Books (Winnie the Pooh)
Building blocks or Lego
Firetruck and police car
Crayons
Colouring books
Rails for bed
Mattress protector (twin, deep)
Night light
Car Seat
Baby shampoo
Rubber ducky.

Patty chucked. “You sure you don’t have kids?”

“Hmm?” Tony kept making notes. “What?”

“That’s pretty specific list -- and NCIS doesn’t deal with kids that often.” She took his notepad and made a few notes, before adding a “child’s potty” to the list, and scratching out the car seat. “I’ll call this in. Hopefully, they’ll allow CAS to settle up later.”

Tony shook his head, and went for his wallet, fishing out his American Express. “Make it easier than haggling that out. Charge what we need to my card. We can settle up later if we need to.”

At her apparent protest, Tony raised a hand. “Seriously, I don’t wear Zegna and Armani because I’m poor, Patty. And I don’t work at NCIS because I need the money. Believe me, one kid's emergency needs barely takes an inch on my earned monthly interest. It’s fine. Go. Order. I’ll see how much longer we’re gonna be here.”

Patty huffed, but went off to a quiet corner by the windows that had fair reception for cellphones. Tony went back to Christopher’s side. The nurse was gone, but the doctor had returned and was writing in Christopher’s file. “Is Ms. Smythe still available?” The doctor asked. “I hope she hasn’t left.”

“She’s on the phone.” Tony gave a jerk of his chin towards the door, eyes looking down at the little boy, he seemed smaller now, laying on the big hospital bed. Christopher had curled on his left side, his broken right arm a lump draped under the sweatshirt, the cast resting across his belly. The poor kid was exhausted, sleeping soundly only in part from the administered pain-killer, but mostly from just having been worn completely out. What worried Tony about the deep sleep was that the kid hadn’t eaten anything yet.

“He’ll likely sleep for the balance of the night.” The Doctor said softly, coming to stand by Tony. “If you’re worried about moving him, don’t be. He won’t wake easily. In the morning, a solid fare, of perhaps a simple oatmeal porridge, or scrambled eggs and toast, would be easiest on his stomach.”

Tony nodded. He’d begun changing his own eating habits after the plague. Oh, he made a bit of a show with his lunches, but breakfast was steel cut oats, with fruit and greek yogurt, dinner was usually a grilled fish or chicken with vegetables and quinoa, or stir fry. Something heavier with vegetables than pizza offered. Once a week he indulged in beef, but overall, kept his diet lean and heart healthy. His lungs were compromised, he had to do something to make it easier on his body given that fact.

‘No run tomorrow morning,’ He realized, thoughtfully, a hand coming up behind his head to scratch through his hair. ‘And no beer tonight… it’s well past my dinner time too.’

The doctor removed a prescription from his bad, and shoved it at Tony. “The painkiller is safe enough for him, but only use as needed. I'm also prescribing some vitamin mixes in a powder format that I’d like to see him take, as well as an ointment for those rashes on his rear end.”

Tony read over the lines, and pocketed it. “Okay.” He nodded. “When can he leave?”

The doctor shrugged. “Now, if you’d like. I’ve no reason to keep him in, well, other than the fact he’s underweight, but that would take time to cure, and can be done in the care of a good foster home, rather than wherever he was living prior, and just as effectively as it could be done in hospital.” The doctor struck Tony as a kind and caring man, his touch on Christopher had been carefully gentle, and considerate of the discomfort and pain the young boy was feeling. He wasn’t disinterested, Tony could tell, in keeping Chris under his care, he was measuring what would help Christopher best, and it wasn’t the sterile hospital environment.

Tony appreciated that. God only knew how much he hated staying in hospital as a patient. His dislike was founded in his childhood, and he didn’t want Chris to develop the same instinctive need to avoid hospital stays. “Any instructions for bathing, or diet?”

“Healthy, whole foods, light on heavy sauces or spices, he’s not used to them. Fruits and vegetables, light on proteins perhaps two to three ounces there at mealtimes. Cover the cast when showering or bathing. Common sense really. He should come back in two weeks, we’ll see how his ribs are doing, and give his arm another check.” The doctor gently stroked Chris’ head. “He’s a survivor, this lad.” The doctor murmured, smiling down at the boy.

“Yeah.” Tony nodded. He took a breath, and reached with careful hands to pick up the child. Per the doctor’s exam, Chris was barely twenty-three pounds, a great margin off where he should be at his current age. For Tony, the child’s weight was negligible. Setting the child high on his hip, Chris’ head rested against his shoulder, and soft puffs of air brushed across his neck. Limbs were little limp noodles, dropping bonelessly around. The doctor helped Tony arrange Chris’ casted arm from where it lay under his shirt, ensuring his little hand was pinned against Tony’s torso. Gravity, or boneless resistance, the child’s grip wasn’t there, and the left hand, falling behind Tony’s arm, fell in a free-for-all downwards. His head slumped against Tony’s shoulder, and legs loosely dangling only Tony’s arm supporting his butt kept the kid upright in his arms. Tony barked a soft laugh, amazed by how stubbornly asleep the squirt was. Child settled, the two men made their way to the hallway, where Patty was waiting, his credit card in hand.

“It’ll be bagged and at the doors for you. The store manager said he’ll stay late until you’ve come and gone.” She said, one critical eye surveying the sleeping child’s flushed cheeks. Something must have pleased her in what she was seeing, because she gave a faint smile of approval. “I can’t thank you enough, Tony.” She said softly.

“Meh.” He shrugged. “I’ll deny ever saying this if you try repeating it.” He told her with a smile, “But after my Mom died -- I had desperately wanted someone to rescue me… I can’t, in good consciousness walk away now.”

She made the sign of a brownie. “Your secret lies safe with me.” Patty snagged the backpack still hanging off Tony’s shoulder, and hefted it onto her arm, snagging his now unencumbered left arm as she went. “I’ll move the car seat from my car to yours when we get down to the garage.”

“Mine is at the YMCA, still.” Tony remembered, suddenly. With Christopher being so upset and his arm hurting badly, it had been Tony he clung to for comfort, and so Tony was the one who went in the ambulance with the child.

“Bet you never thought you’d see yourself as the one a kid would turn to, huh?” Patty laughed, well used to the team dynamic where it was Gibbs who handled the kids, and Tony who stayed as far away as he could. “Your car is in the lot downstairs. Forgive me, but I called mutual friend of ours at DCPD, and they had it very gently towed here.”

He eyed her with skepticism, “Gently towed?”

“Very gently. Not a scratch or dent on it, I swear.” She assured him, laughing at his fussy nature where cars were concerned. “Come on now, foster-Daddy DiNozzo, let’s get this car seat in, and you on your way. I daresay, this won’t be a weekend you ever forget.”

Tony frowned, suspecting she was alluding to all sorts of childcare horrors that she had seen. He and Christopher would have to have a few words about living chez DiNozzo. Things like, the Little Debbie’s were his, and if asked nicely he might share. The oreo cookies Chris could have -- technically, they belonged to Abby, but she’d forgive the kid.

Mercifully, Patty was an old hand with the car-seats. She had it installed into his vehicle in record time, and explained the process as if Tony would need to know it in future. He looked at her like she was nuts, but she laughed at him. Deftly, between the two of them, they moved Christopher from his arms and into the seat, and Patty gently fastened up the restraints. From somewhere in the depths of her voluminous purse, a baby blanket was found, and tucked around the sleeping child.

“All set.” She decided. “I’ll call Sunday night when I get back, and see how everything is. Do you want me to pick him up then, or Monday morning?”

“Monday will be fine. I’ll let the Boss know I might be a few minutes late.” He decided. A tired, jet-lagged woman would not want to deal with a cranky kid. He figured Monday was soon enough to pass the gauntlet. “Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Patty.”

Patty smiled, like the sun coming up, and bathed in face in happy creases. “Oh, you too, Tony!” She gave him an impromptu hug. “I really can’t thank you enough… I wish I had the resources to place Christopher long-term somewhere, until we can find out his background and situation, but... “

“It’s Thanksgiving, and your short-handed and short resources. I know.” Tony smiled. “It’s fine. Go.”

One last squeeze, and Patty left, casting one last glance at Christopher who slept peacefully. Tony checked his backpack was in the front seat, where Patty had initially tossed it, and that his wallet hit the console, he’d need it to pay the parking fees.

The Walmart Supercenter wasn’t completely out of his route, and mercifully, was ten minutes away for the Howard University Hospital. Tony turned to go south on Georgia Avenue NW, and mindful of sleeping child, and the traffic, kept to a sedate speed. Total trip took twelve minutes when he pulled into the parking lot, and right up to the front of the store doors. Stepping from the car, he looked in askance at the sleeping child. He didn’t feel right leaving the kid there, but he also didn’t want to disturb the little guy.

“Special Agent DiNozzo?”

Tony jumped a country mile, and then mentally kicked himself for his situational awareness being so poor. The man that hadn’t really snuck up behind him, snorted a laugh. He had a large loaded cart in his hands, and the wheels made an awful screech. How had he missed that?

“Sorry,” The chap said with a smile. “I imagine you’re quite tired and more than a bit absorbed in that kid. I’m Miles Davies, general manager.”

It took nothing to don the social genial mask he wore day to day, at this point in his life, it was nearly instinctive. “Tony DiNozzo… I really can’t thank you enough for staying so late.”

Miles waived the gratitude off. “Oh, think nothing of it. Seriously, this is the kind of stuff we do here, all the time, for CAS. And none of us mind helping out these children in our own small ways.” He moved the cart towards the trunk of the car. “Ms. Smythe said you were covering the costs out of pocket, so I gave you a 10% overall discount, if that’s okay.”

Tony grinned. “That’s great.” He opened the trunk to his car, and began moving the bags in, making mental note of what was in what bag.

“Great… now, we had a set of plush for Winnie the Pooh, it included Eeyore and Tigger.” Miles was explaining, “And it came with a DVD, it was ten dollars more, but I thought….”

“No, no… you thought right. That’s totally awesome.” Tony grinned, sensing the man was hesitant about some of the purchases. Well, if he selected the more expensive things, so be it. It was done over the phone, and in general terms. Buyer beware and all, Tony wasn’t expecting the bill to be cheap, and he honestly wasn’t worried about it..

It was a tight fit, the trunk not being terribly large, but the entire order that had filled the cart was accommodated in the end. Absently, Tony wondered how he’d get it upstairs, but figured he could put the sleeping child in his bed short term, with pillows as bolsters, and run down for the rest.

He signed the invoice, and watched Miles go back into the store. A quick glance at his watch, and Tony sighed. It was nearly midnight.

Traffic was practically dead now, mercifully so, and he managed to get back to his apartment in thirty minutes. He extricated Christopher from the car-seat, carefully carrying the child up five flights of stairs, and then into his apartment.

Freely admitting he was a pathetic example of a man, still using a twin bed, Tony chided himself in silence. Despite its small size, the bed dwarfed Chris, so he tucked him in under the covers after stripping off the sweatpants, socks and sweatshirt, leaving him dressed in the t-shirt and underwear. The duvet covering him was winter-weight, and leaving the child in too many clothes would have been stifling. Tony then set about using copious pile of pillows as bolsters. Once certain the kid couldn’t roll out of the bed (but setting the spare pillows from the closet on the floor just in case), Tony made three quick trips down and up with the purchases.

Sitting on the floor in his living room, he sorted it all out, removed tags from clothes, and set about doing a quick load of laundry. The stuffed toys were sealed in a box, and while he gave great thought to washing them first, he decided to wash the Eeyore and Tigger, but let Chris have Winnie straight away. If the kid wheezed from the stuffed animal, he’d wash it later The coat was carefully examined, as were boots and shoes. Gratefully, Tony found socks -- something he hadn’t had on his list -- included in the order.

All in all, it took twenty minutes to sort, five minutes to throw the clothes into the wash, and then another ten to reheat a quick small meal for himself, even if it was well after midnight. By 1 am, clothes were in dryer, and Tony finally sought refuge and a few hours of sleep in his reclining chair, mind worrying over what the next few days might bring, and how to make a scared child happy.

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